Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lumpers and splitters - "ists" and "ides"



The above contrasts words that do exist with words that might be expected to exist but do not.

Equalities and inequalities in language are telling. Marked and unmarked words inherently frame the meanings of words. Huh? Read this for an explanation of marked and unmarked terms. It is a linguistic distinction, but it is a very useful tool for looking at cultural assumptions.

At the link above, you will find Deborah Tannen's full 1993 discussion of markedness and gender implications. In that article Tannen, a respected author and professor states,

"THE TERM "MARKED" IS a staple of linguistic theory. It refers to the way language alters the base meaning of a word by adding a linguistic particle that has no meaning on its own. The unmarked form of a word carries the meaning that goes without saying -- what you think of when you're not thinking anything special. ... The unmarked forms of most English words also convey "male." Being male is the unmarked case. Endings like ess and ette mark words as "female." Unfortunately, they also tend to mark them for frivolousness. Would you feel safe entrusting your life to a doctorette? Alfre Woodard, who was an Oscar nominee for best supporting actress, says she identifies herself as an actor because "actresses worry about eyelashes and cellulite, and women who are actors worry about the characters we are playing." Gender markers pick up extra meanings that reflect common associations with the female gender: not quite serious, often sexual. ... Men can choose styles that are marked, but they don't have to...(unlike women...they have) the option of being unmarked."

Derivation of the female state is implicit in English. To be feminine is to be marked; to be a feminist is to be doubly marked. No term can neutrally percieved with doubly embedded marking. That is why I do not use the term feminist. I use the term egalitarian. I don't beieve that "setting apart" or drawing distinctions can ever promote equality of anything. I'm a lumper not a splitter. Lumpers categorize using fewer categories - splitters increase the number of categories. To build peace we must consider how to create lumps rather than splits.

That is why I'm uncertain whether using the term femicide to describe the murder of women along the US Mexican border is soemthing that should be used. Genecide would be a more powerful description. Using the prefix "fem" unfortunately sets up a mindset to work with a derived or lesser term. Systematic widespread murder is never qualitatively greater or lesser. The murders of the women of Juarez are no less a genocidal phenomenon because those tortured and murdered are women.

I had the opportunity to meet a woman named Swan Eagle Harajan at a Corporate Personhood Study Group in Tucson. Her car had broken down and she was stuck in Tucson for a while. She is intense. She's angry. She's a splitter. But she knows her data backwards and forwards. I like intensity... if it is a good intensity as that is also described as passion. I like passionate people, people who care. I may not want to be around it all the time as it would be exhausting, and I personally would burn out and become ineffective. We all need to know our limits and recharge when we have to. She gives her life to fighting injustice with special focus on First Peoples and women.

I'm not sure that some of the practices Swan Eagle has in her toolkit are the most effective of tools. I come from a perspective that believes peace can only be created when we:

Find commonality.

Talk to individuals.

Motivate them to act.

The key is to communicate effectively so that they understand and disseminate the information that touched them.

All change comes about through personal incorporation of the change. All levels of organization in a system must incorporate a change if the change is to be systemwide. War and genocide can never be stopped when change takes place only at the highest of geopolitical levels. Solutions to problems that created the original hostility that turned into warfare must be accepted by individuals in the waring factions.

I'm quite interested in how the subject of the Juarez Murders will be covered by the new book that will be coming out by Stella Pope Duarte. As a taleted woman who has only just recently begun her writing career and already been a finalist for the Pushcart Prize in Literature I am hoping her coverage of the genocide on the border will not belabor the point that the vicitims in this killing field are women... but she does use the term femicide. The use of that word does inform. But at some level is also supports the notion that women are different, derivative, and not worth as much as men. It matters not that those murdered are women and girls.... it matters that they are people and children.

We need to get over splitting violence up into types -- this ultimately leads to the sanctioning of certain types and the ban of others. It is ludicrous to differentiate murder into allowed and nonallowed forms. We need to work to decrease violence. I suggest reading the article, "Women and the evolution of world politics" to gain more understanding of the thinking involved in this argument.

"The core of the feminist agenda for international politics seems fundamentally correct: the violent and aggressive tendencies of men have to be controlled, not simply by redirecting them to external aggression but by constraining those impulses through a web of norms, laws, agreements, contracts, and the like. In addition, more women need to be brought into the domain of international politics as leaders, officials, soldiers, and voters. Only by participating fully in global politics can women both defend their own interests and shift the underlying male agenda."

Most cultures accept much higher rates of the killing of women than men.

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